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U.S., Europe Show United Front As Ukraine Tensions Rise

U.S. President Joe Biden has declared "total" unity among Western powers after a call with European leaders on deterring Russia from invading Ukraine.

The 80-minute call took place on January 24 amid growing concern that Russia could soon make a military move into Ukraine and after the Pentagon said 8,500 U.S. troops were put on standby for possible deployment to NATO countries.

"I had a very, very, very good meeting -- total unanimity with all the European leaders," Biden told reporters shortly after finishing a video conference with allied leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the European Council, the European Commission, and NATO.

Washington is trying to maintain transatlantic unity to build a credible threat of sanctions as a deterrence against Moscow in the face of differing approaches and ties to Russia, which supplies about 40 percent of the trade bloc's natural gas supplies.

Germany’s new government has faced criticism from Kyiv over its refusal to send defensive weapons to Ukraine. After the call with Biden, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Russia faces "very heavy consequences" from the West if it attacks Ukraine and said "it is up to Russia to undertake visible de-escalation."

The French government announced that Russian and Ukrainian officials would meet, along with their French and German counterparts, in Paris on January 26 to try to find a way out of the impasse.

President Emmanuel Macron "thinks there is a space for diplomacy, a path to de-escalation," an aide said, according to AFP, confirming that Macron would speak to Putin "in the coming days."

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby echoed other warnings, saying that intelligence shows "it's very clear that the Russians have no intention right now of de-escalating."

Kirby said the force of up to 8,500 U.S. troops was on "heightened alert" for potential deployment to reinforce any activation of the NATO Response Force in the region. Some units will be ordered to be ready to deploy on as little as five days' notice.

"What this is reassurance to our NATO allies," Kirby said. "It sends a very clear signal to Mr. Putin that we take our responsibilities to NATO seriously."

NATO has not made a decision to activate the Response Force, which consists of about 40,000 troops from multiple nations. That force was enhanced in 2014 with a “spearhead force” of about 20,000 troops on extra-high alert within the larger Response Force.

If NATO decides to activate the Response Force, the United States will contribute a range of military units, Kirby said.

NATO also said it was sending jets and ships to bolster its eastern flank.

Denmark, Spain, France, and the Netherlands were all planning or considering sending troops, planes, or ships to Eastern Europe.

The tensions fueled instability in global markets. Russia's main stock index plunged and the central bank suspended foreign currency purchasing after the ruble slumped. In early trading on January 25, the yen and the U.S. dollar rose.

The flurry of announcements on January 24 came amid intelligence reports from Ukrainian intelligence that Russia has placed more than 125,000 troops near the border, spawning mounting concern over an imminent incursion.

The United States and NATO have told Putin to withdraw from Ukraine's borders, warning that a Russian attack will trigger damaging economic sanctions, as well as a beefed-up NATO presence in Eastern Europe.

Russia already seized Crimea in 2014 and backs separatists in Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russia denies any intention of invading and accuses the United States and its allies of provoking the situation.

The Kremlin has used its menacing troop buildup to issue a list of demands to redraw the security architecture in Europe. Moscow wants NATO to abandon any prospect of Ukraine one day joining the alliance and seeks a major pullback of the alliance’s forces from Eastern Europe.

Washington and its allies say many Russian demands are nonstarters, but they have shown a willingness to discuss arms control, missile deployments, and confidence-building measures. Four rounds of high-level diplomacy this month between Russia and the West failed to reach a breakthrough.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

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